Tom Larkin of Shihad (NZ) talks about the music business ahead of their Australian tour

Ahead of their impressive run of Australian dates next month and through July, we catch up with Tom Larkin of Shihad to find out how the band recovered from their recent chaotic venture of slamming down three shows across three NZ cities in one freaking day, what the re-release of the beloved Fish album means to the band and the direction of the music industry as it is now.

Shihad kicked off the month with three gigs in three cities in one day in New Zealand – that was mildly insane, no?

Yeah, no, it was resolutely stupid. I think, having said that, I suppose it’s that whole thing where as a band who’s done 28 years’ worth of work now, we’re looking for extra challenge. That became. “Oh, we haven’t done that” and “We haven’t tested ourselves that hard in that kind of environment. Well, fuck it, let’s go!”.

And it went well?

It went great, it went great. I mean, after the third show it was exhausting, but the funny thing was you’d kind of think, doing that, that the third show would be the most difficult. Funnily enough, we found that the first show was the most difficult. It was 12 in the afternoon, you know, and we just felt stiff and kind of like, under-gunned. The last show was totally on fire…but, you know, after that show we were exhausted.

So you won’t be doing anything insane like that for the Australian tour that’s coming up next month?

No, but we will definitely be putting in a large calorific input, which is our tradition.

There’s also just been a re-release of the Shihad Fish album, I suppose we’ll call it that, and Blue Light Disco on vinyl – is that specifically because it was the 20th anniversary, or just because you could?

A mixture of both. Obviously the 20th anniversary was the trigger. It was like, “What shall we do?” and we managed to put this package together and do that and, of course, we’re big vinyl fans so it was fantastic to have that available and to be able to do that. We’re really pleased. We’re really just pleased to be in a position where, after 20 years, there’s still enough interest to re-issue that stuff and continue to go out and tour on it.

So that is the first time that’s been on vinyl? Why’s that?

Well if you talk about the release of that particular album, vinyl had reached its peak irrelevance, if you will, so people were not really interested in entertaining that format at that time. It was seen as an extravagance.


Travesty. There you go.

You seem to have your finger in a fair few pies – drummer for Shihad, owning and running Studios in the City in Brunswick, band manager, producer, and songwriter duties – to any “normal” person any one of those could be considered a full time job. How on earth do you manage that kind of workload, as well as being a father to little ones?

The simple answer is that I don’t see them as separate art forms, I see it all as one. Some of the things that people would see as one thing, as you grow, you become accustomed. It’s like riding a bike; being in a band, dealing with a band, it’s like riding a bike. Every single one of those things tend to inform one another. Something that you do in a production role tends to inform how you deal with management, how you deal with being in a band, or how you run a recording studio.

Likewise, how you run a recording studio tends to inform how you run a band, how you manage, how you produce songs. All of that together I view as one thing; they’re all separate corners of the same overall arc, which is dealing with music as a passion and also dealing with growing and helping others grow their own ability to engage with music as a career.

Social media wasn’t really around when you guys were starting out, but it’s pretty intense and very much at the forefront these days – do you think it’s a hindrance or a bonus to bands these days to have that sort of immediacy to fans?

In essence, I think that for an independent artist who is determined and who has a really high work ethic, and an independent streak, I think that it is fucking Christmas. A lot of the conversations around social media, particularly from people of our vintage, tend to revolve around “Oh, it was so much better back in the day”, but guess what? That conversation about being so much better back in the day when artists did this or did that, that conversation has been around for-fucking-ever. That conversation, the generational affliction, that hasn’t changed. It is merely the passage of time and culture and relevance.

It means that people who are older look back on what was and don’t see it showing up in the modern era and then bemoan the fact that how they did things isn’t how it is now. To be honest, I think it’s a wasted conversation…progress is progress, shit’s moving that way, that’s just how it is. I often say this to people, that for all these musicians who complain about the uphill battles that they may be facing in this modern era, due to the fact that the investment of a music label has kind of fallen away, people seem to fail to recognise that they’ve got more power than your average indie label had in the 90’s within their own fucking phones.

They’ve got more power in their phone to get their message out there, their songs out there and to tell people what they’re on about, what their culture is and what they want to say to the world than they ever would have had in the 90s with hundreds of thousands of dollars. If your artist is prepared to recognise that fact then it IS Christmas, but if you spend all your time moaning about “It should be like this, it should be like that,” and buying into the kind of regret narrative that surrounds the music industry about how things were, I think you’re disabling yourself.

There is a capacity to find your people, your audience, and develop that audience and develop your music within that framework that was previously completely impossible. Where the gap exists is not within opportunity or scope to make music, the gap is in a mentorship or an ascending kind of level of training you can expect from the music industry, because that whole thing’s gone.

What there used to be, is you used to get a label and get signed and be put in with producers who would provide you with the financial bandwidth and the connections to work with people who could really help train you, and find the best things about you to help you expand on that. That’s the side that’s been lost. The issue within the music community is not so much one of opportunity, it’s one of mentorship, coaching, artist development…those are the issues which need to be solved.

Do you think musicians, now more than ever, need to be smart business people?

I suppose here’s the point: it’s the music business. I think people tend to forget that when we talk about that stuff, that there’s music and music had its own rules… As soon as you start to want to…as soon as you charge for someone to come and see you, as soon as you have the audacity to get on stage and say, “I have something important to tell everyone and you should pay for the privilege of listening to it,” – as soon as you have that as an equation, you’re in the music business.

Is it important for musicians to know about the music business? For sure, so long as they’re engaging in the music business, and the point being is that if they are engaging in the music business, do they want to be shit at it or do they want to be good at it? So it’s a question that answers itself, I think. People get confused about it because there’s still this idea that music and business doesn’t work together, but it’s more to do with the fact that they are separate ways of operating, but need to co-exist.

They can co-exist as long as you understand how each of them work, respect how each of those mentalities work and how to make them work together. Yeah, you’ve got to know about business if you feel that you have something to offer people, to the point where you’re going to get on stage and ask them to pay to listen to you, then you are in a business and you need to be good at it. Having said that, this era in particular tends to favour musicians who have an entrepreneurial capacity in themselves.

The biggest loser in the current era is the musician who just wants to write music, or just wants to write and record music and have it go out to the world and just be music. Not having to play live, not having to engage with an audience, not having to do anything else, just play music. Now, there were musicians who could do that but in this era that, as a pathway, has evaporated.

To wrap things up now, I lived in NZ for ten years and I learned that Kiwis don’t really like Australians claiming their things…Phar Lap, Russell Crowe, pavlova…now you guys are a Kiwi band but are based in Australia…are we allowed to claim you as Australians yet?

At the end of the day, nationality is important, not because of flags and the titles “New Zealand” or “Australia” but because of the community, and the environment in which you grew up. In respect to that, there is the community environment that brought these four people together in the same city in the same time that means that New Zealand is the home of the band, it’s the birthplace of the band.

There are mentalities that we carry with us and that we identify, in essence, as New Zealanders with a New Zealand outlook. However, at the same time, the communities within a country like Australia – we could never have done, or got to where we have without the support and love and nurturing of the Australian music community and the Australian music fans. To that end, I live in Australia and am an Australian resident, I have two children who are Australian citizens, you know, so I very, very much have ended up as an ‘Australian’ in terms of my residence and where I see myself living for the rest of my usable life, I suppose.

At the end of the day, I think we’re all turning into more and more global citizens due to the fact that borders don’t mean what they did. Do I get upset? No, I think Australians have really contributed to the Shihad story but, again, Shihad would not be what it is unless it came from New Zealand.

Our birthplace is New Zealand, that will never change, I view myself as a New Zealander, but I love Australia and I love Australians and I love what we’ve managed to achieve over here. I live over here and I feel part of the Australian community. I think Australia has ownership of us as well.

To celebrate your 50/50 share in the mighty Shihad make sure you grab a ticket to the upcoming Australian tour and have your face melted.


June 23rd | Settlers Tavern, MARGARET RIVER | With Storytime | Tickets
June 24th | Rosemount Hotel, PERTH | With Storytime | Tickets
June 25th | Rosemount Hotel, PERTH | With Storytime | Tickets
June 26th | Newport Hotel, FREMANTLE | With Storytime | Tickets
July 1st | The Triffid, BRISBANE | With Grenadiers | Tickets
July 2nd | Pigsty in July, HUNTER VALLEY | Tickets
July 15th | The Factory, SYDNEY | With Grenadiers | Tickets
July 16th | The Croxton, MELBOURNE | With Grenadiers | Tickets



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